No coalitions for Nick Clegg?
This is the received wisdom: a hung parliament is good news for the Liberal Democrats, because it leaves them, as the third-largest party, holding the balance of power. LibDem leader Nick Clegg will be courted by both sides and will decide whether Labour or Conservatives form the next government with him as part of a coalition administration.
But Clegg doesn’t see it that way. Until recently he wouldn’t even discuss what might happen in the event of an inconclusive vote that left either the Conservatives or Labour as the largest party but with too few seats to form a government alone.
Now Clegg says there will be no backroom deals ahead of an election, and that afterwards – if the result leaves no party with a majority – he will not sacrifice any of his four manifesto priorities to get a share of power.
He stressed this at a Reuter Newsmaker event in London on Monday but would not be drawn on where this may take us. The logic suggests that if Clegg really sticks by his principles and refuses to compromise in the event of a hung parliament, we face the prospect of a minority administration, perhaps propped up by Northern Ireland or nationalist MPs, and a fresh election within months.
The Lib Dems would remain outside government, supporting or opposing the administration on a policy by policy basis.
Clegg deftly sidestepped the question when I put this scenario to him in a Reuters Insider television interview after the Newsmaker event.
“”I think we are getting too clever here,” he said. “We are dancing on the head of a pin.”
But he suggested that — for the moment at least — he has no appetite for the kind of political deal that would be needed to create a viable coalition.
“I am a politician of conviction … I’m certainly not going in any way to trim on our core convictions, ” he said.
While the polls suggest the possibility of a hung parliament Clegg can expect to be quizzed endlessly on this point. Will he be able to resist letting a little more light into his strategy as we get closer to election day?